Today my husband, Sophie (our 11-year-old), Ella (our 10-year-old) and I visited Auschwitz. In the Nazi-occupied region of what is now Poland, Auschwitz and its concentration and extermination camps caused the deaths of more than a million people during World War II.
As we walked I subconsciously started repeating a quote from the Baha’i teachings that I had memorized when I was just a little girl:
The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286.
That quote came to me, I think, because Auschwitz reminded me of what man is capable of—and what’s at stake. When you see this very poignant, horrible lesson in human history it reminds you: let us be alert, because small acts of hatred can quickly lead to unstoppable, horrific things.
I turned to my two daughters walking with me hand in hand through the camp, looked them in the eyes and said, “We must always stand up to any type of persecution or discrimination, whether bullying or other malicious acts of hatred. We can never be happy, free, useful, or an agent of positive change in the world if we don’t take on this moral and spiritual responsibility.”
Humanity is like a tree, the countries are the different limbs or branches of this tree, and the individual humans are as the fruits and flowers of this tree. So how can we say that if one limb of the tree is suffering, the whole tree doesn’t get compromised? Today Syria, ISIS, and the de-unification of the EU are a few examples of how our tree is being compromised.
In fact, we compromise the peace and security of the inhabitants of our Earth every time we take another step towards disunity. That disunity results in conflict and war. The shooting and bombing of innocent people causes another tumor in the body of humankind. Unless we become unified we will never have security or peace:
Today there is no greater glory for man than that of service in the cause of the Most Great Peace. Peace is light, whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is a satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence, we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment, whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 123.
How can any of us think that Brexit can affect our financial equilibrium, but the pain and suffering of the refugees hasn’t tipped our social equilibrium? How can any of us not feel the heat and the horror when we see how brutally millions of Jews were gassed or burned in furnaces? The unspeakable atrocities that happened here at Auschwitz sound a wake-up call to all humanity—we need to grow up and unify, becoming a source of light and not a force of darkness on our planet.
I don’t partake of partisan politics, but when I hear “Let’s take our country back,” or “Make America great again,” all my conscience hears is “Let’s take the path to divide and separate ourselves from ‘them,’ and not evolve and work together to build bonds of unity for a better world.” This unquestionably irresponsible attitude can only take us towards a path of more hatred, hostility, war and suffering. Despite all the memes on social media, I don’t know if Adolf Hitler ever actually said “Let’s make Germany great again!” But I do know that the Nazi message before they started the war and built the extermination camps exploited exactly that kind of nationalistic and xenophobic fervor.
At Auschwitz/Birkenau, a memorial plaque reads: “Let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity where the Nazis murdered about 1.5 million Jewish men, women, and children…”
As I leave Auschwitz my heart is heavy, and I ask myself if we can reach peace only after more unimaginable horrors like Auschwitz or the genocide of Rwanda or the terrible civil war in Syria, following our old patterns of stubborn, entrenched behavior. Perhaps, instead, we can now learn from those tragedies and embrace a consultative will to become a better version of ourselves. The choice is ours to make. I wish everyone could witness Auschwitz or the Treblinka Death Camp and feel the horror of making the wrong choice!